Steve Martin is a very funny man… and also a mysterious one. He didn’t tread the same path as a lot of other comedians. He’s made interesting career choices that surprised his fans and critics. The more you know about him, the more complex he appears.
Just what is so hilarious and head-scratching about Martin? It doesn’t take a brain surgeon – or indeed a screw top – to establish the facts.
Steve Martin kind of taught himself to be funny
Some comedians have funny bones. Does Steve Martin think he does? Seemingly not. In fact, he approached the job of stand-up in a methodical way. No getting up onstage and rattling out some gags for this wild and crazy guy. He developed a laser-like focus, setting him apart from his contemporaries.
While he enjoyed his time as a live comedy sensation, Martin is philosophical about it. “I was seeking comic originality,” he revealed to NPR “and fame fell on me as a byproduct.” His road to becoming a comedian with boundless energy and no punchlines is brilliantly recounted in his memoir Born Standing Up (2007).
He wanted to play a British sci-fi hero
Martin is reportedly a fan of the long-running BBC series Doctor Who. As well as wanting to play the role when it was up for grabs in 1996, he inserted parts of it into 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back In Action.
A sequence featuring various alien creatures included Doctor Who’s iconic Daleks, at Martin’s insistence. He actually made it a condition of his being involved.
Later, when the BBC wanted to revive the show, they ran into rights issues over the Daleks. Why? The owners were unhappy about them appearing in Looney Tunes. Steve Martin is said to have smoothed things over by offering a written apology.
Martin and Kubrick? It nearly happened
Another curveball from Martin is that he could have worked with legendary director Stanley Kubrick. Her Moments notes that at one point “Kubrick was envisioning a zany comedy based on the 1926 German novella Traumnovelle.”
This collaboration never happened. But Kubrick did get to release his film of the book in 1999. It was his last picture. Now an erotic thriller, it was retitled Eyes Wide Shut and starred Tom Cruise!
A French dressing down
Stanley Kubrick worked with comic genius and character actor Peter Sellers. Martin missed the opportunity to be directed by Kubrick. However, he somehow decided that playing Sellers’ world-famous role of Inspector Clouseau was a good idea.
The numbers certainly added up. Two Pink Panther films were made with Martin as Clouseau, in 2006 and 2009. The follow-up failed to catch on, bringing an end to an arguably misguided part of Martin’s career. Some of his fans thought it a mystery that he took on a role so associated with one performer.
Why did he sign up for Sgt. Bilko?
Still, the multi-faceted star had form when it came to re-imaginings. 1996 saw him take the part of Sgt. Ernie Bilko, a beloved character played by Phil Silvers in his show of the same name (1955-59). This seriously underperformed at the box office and earned some pretty bad reviews.
His legendary anti-autograph cards
For a long time, if you ran into Steve Martin you’d be likely to receive a card instead of an autograph. The witty message read: “This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny.”
Eventually, Martin stopped doing this, saying that he realized his fans wanted him to be more interactive. Wasn’t this the point of handing out impersonal cards in the first place? Anyway, we’re more than happy with his change of direction.
The complex man behind the Wild and Crazy Guy
Steve Martin was a human dynamo onstage. However, he was perfecting an idea rather than merely going ape. He told NPR: “once the concept was understood, there was nothing more to develop.” After a while, he backed away from the spotlight.
This sounds like more of an artistic approach. So it isn’t surprising to learn that Martin is an art collector. He’s also a novelist and accomplished musician.
Recent years have seen him go back to live comedy, alongside pal Martin Short. He’s also shared his expertise online in a series of courses.
He may be a man of many parts. But all those parts form the whole that people love so much. Why bother trying to understand Steve Martin when you can just play one of his routines or movies and laugh your socks off?